For decades, the name most closely associated with public art in Providence was Shepard Fairey. But the city has changed since his RISD heyday and it’s time for something – or someone – new, someone homegrown. Enter AGONZA, an artist and activist who was born Angie Gonzalez in the Dominican Republic but spent most of her life in Providence.
In a tumultuous 2020, the artist met the moment with her work. When violence struck downtown last June, leaving smashed storefronts in its wake, she was there the next morning painting a plywood panel covering a broken window at Queen of Hearts/Modern Love. Her reverent portrait of Miss Rhode Island, Jonét Nichelle – who the artist describes as “the definition of Black excellence” – became a symbol of a community rallying together in response to trauma.
Later in the summer, she joined The Avenue Concept, the public art organization that appeared on this list in 2019, as well as local artists Jessica Brown, Kendel Joseph, and ABOVE to paint another artistic response to current events. The VOTE mural featured each artist painting one letter; AGONZA’s “T” depicted community organizer Justice Ameer Gaines. The community response was immediate and enthusiastic: The mural became the backdrop for countless social media posts, as well as a voter registration drive and impromptu celebration when Joe Biden won the presidency.
“I just want to make an impact for our community,” AGONZA says of her work. “Hopefully, I can create more conversations on public art and expand my passion for creative change.”
She’s also emerging as a leader within the arts community. The Providence Schools and URI grad, who works by day as a social workforce developer for the Providence Housing Authority, now sits on the The Avenue Concept’s board, where she can advocate for opportunities for other local artists.
Next, AGONZA is turning her sights towards the Hartford Projects where she was raised. She aims to bring a colorful new mural, and perhaps a bit of hope, to a bland institutional setting. “There is no sense of creative color and beauty there, which I believe causes depression,” she says. “Hopefully this mural will make these neighborhoods more beautiful, as many beautiful and creative people live there, and give hope to the youth that artists who come from where they come from can make a difference.”
Her Reason for Optimism: “Equality and change. The Black Lives Matter protests that have been occurring around the world needed to happen to make people aware that there are many injustices happening. We need to stop ignoring it and be the change.”